Leishmania are obligatory intracellular parasites in mammalian macrophages that gain entry by receptor-mediated phagocytosis. Their major cell surface glycoconjugate, lipophosphoglycan (LPG), has been implicated in this process. A monoclonal antibody specific for Leishmania major LPG (WIC 79.3), which has been shown to block promastigote attachment to macrophages, was used to identify a macrophage-binding determinant of LPG. WIC 79.3 bound exclusively to the phosphorylated repeats of LPG and not to the saccharide core or lipid anchor. Furthermore, the epitope recognized by WIC 79.3 mapped to the phosphorylated oligosaccharide P5b, PO4-6[Gal(beta 1-3)Gal(beta 1-3)Gal(beta 1-3)]Gal(beta 1-4)Man(alpha 1-, which is unique to the LPG of promastigotes of L.major. Phosphorylated oligosaccharides P3, PO4-6[Gal(beta 1-3)[Gal(beta 1-4) Man(alpha 1-, and P4b, PO4-6[Gal(beta 1-3)Gal(beta 1-3)] Gal(beta 1-4)Man(alpha 1-, were also recognized by WIC 79.3 but with considerably lower (approximately 100-fold) affinities. The phosphorylated oligosaccharide P5b inhibited attachment of promastigotes of L. major to the macrophage cell line J774 to the same degree as phosphoglycan (derived from LPG) and Fab fragments of WIC 79.3, suggesting that P5b is a site of L. major LPG that is recognized by macrophage receptor(s) and is an important determinant in the attachment of promastigotes to host macrophages and initiation of infection.